Freedom and equality?

Miles Jackson cqmv at
Thu Aug 31 21:44:34 PDT 2000

On Thu, 31 Aug 2000, bill fancher wrote:

> Skinner enumerated the techiniques of effective behavioral control. He
> demonstrated how behavior is controlled and showed how and why the
> traditional "literature of Freedom and Dignity" is ineffective against
> non-traditional, non-punitive measures of control.
> Since such methods are (and were then) the methods of choice for the ruling
> class, this exposure was considered extremely dangerous. Consequently, his
> work was attacked from both the left and the right. His ideas fell out of
> favor, not because anything he said was shown to be false, but because his
> ideas were said to lead to authoritarian systems of control, or demeaned the
> dignity of man. Funding for research dried up, and a program of character
> assassination was instituted.

This is a pretty generous summary of the rise and fall of behaviorism in psychology as a scientific discipline. In fact, Skinner's ideas fell out of favor in the 1960s and 1970s among psychological researchers because a growing corpus of cognitive research clearly disconfirmed basic behaviorist tenets. One example: Festinger's research on cognitive dissonance clearly demonstrated that people are often motivated more by the need for cognitive consistency than by positive reinforcement. "Character assassination" was the least of Skinner's problems; it's pretty clear (to me, at least) that radical behaviorism was superceded by cognitivism among research psychologists because research psychologists prefer theories that are consistent with a wide array of research findings.

That said, I agree that behavior is sometimes influenced by classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. But note this is not the radical behaviorist claim that all behavior can be analyzed in terms of reinforcement contingencies.


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